Palestinian American Marcelle Obeid is running for LA County Central Committee
Disclosure: The author of this piece has been a friend and colleague of Ms. Obeid. The two worked together during the 2015 divestment campaign at the University of California, Davis.
Marcelle Obeid is a recent University of California Davis graduate and a Palestinian activist. She is running as a Democrat for the Los Angeles County Central Committee. Evan Sandlin spoke with Ms. Obeid about her decision to run for office, how she views her candidacy, and how her and her family’s experiences have motivated her activism.
Evan W. Sandlin: Just to get started why don’t you explain what office you’re running for and why you feel compelled to run for that office.
Marcelle Obeid: I’m running for a seat on the Democrat Party’s Los Angeles County Central Committee. The Committee basically develops the Party’s position and presents it to the public, it coordinates the Party’s clubs and organizations within the county, and it is also responsible for endorsing candidates for office on the behalf of the California Democratic Party. As far as why I wanted to run for this office, I’ve been very active in politics in college, obviously with an emphasis on Palestinian issues and the BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) movement. I think there is a huge disconnect between our corrupt political system and those whose lives are dictated by it. I grew up in Long Beach and that’s where I’m residing now, and being on the Central Committee is a way in which I can be active at the local level and be a representative of the community that I come from and address their concerns. As a young woman of color, I feel that my progressive views and fresh input are needed to represent my respective communities.
ES: You mentioned your youth. You are 22 years old. I would imagine that you’re younger than most of the individuals running for this position. Obviously something critics are going to say is that young means a lack of experience. What experiences did you have in college or growing up that you feel prepare you for this position?
MO: Yeah, I obviously completely understand why people would be reluctant to consider someone who’s as young as myself. I am younger than your average Central Committee member, but I think my experiences in the university are going to allow me to bring in the perspective of youth into the position. As someone who is new to the game, I can also offer unbiased critiques and new solutions. Certainly my term as president of Students for Justice in Palestine [at UC Davis] is an example of me being in a leadership role and our ability to pass divestment shows that I, with the help of a community, can achieve goals. But I think, because I am young, I am aware of the many different issues of social justice that youth are interested in. There are a lot of issues, LGTB rights, or Black Lives Matter, or Palestinian rights that youth are very involved in and care a lot about. So, I think me being young actually allows me to give voice to those issues of social justice that I’ve been involved in and that my generation cares about.
ES: So you mentioned divestment. Let’s talk about it! Obviously that was a big challenge we both undertook last year. Do you think that experience in particular gives you a certain perspective that you’ll bring to the Committee?
MO: Being the president of Students for Justice in Palestine [at UC Davis] and passing divestment was kind of the culmination of my activism as a student. It gave me leadership skills, taught me how much hard work is required to achieve things and taught me how to deal with adversity and also how to deal with people that want you to fail. I’m proud that I was able to stand up for my values and what I believe through all of that. I intend to bring those experiences, what I learned, and my values to this position as well.
ES: There is at least already one hit-piece on a pro-Israeli blog already, criticizing your candidacy. Do you expect opposition to get more intense as this campaign moves forward in the next few months?
MO: [Laughter] I’m not really surprised it happened because how could it not? But I am a little surprised that they caught on so quickly. I’m definitely expecting it to get more attention the closer the election gets and for them to say I’m some kind of anti-Semite, but I am definitely not backing down. I’m already on the Canary Mission website and so once that happened I decided it’s all out in the open and I’m not going to apologize for it or to pretend otherwise. I am going to be open and unapologetic about my support for Palestine and my support for BDS.
ES: You’re running for a position within the Democratic Party. Many believe the Democratic Party is less than friendly towards Palestine and Palestinians. Even the progressive wing of the party, people like Bernie Sanders, still have what one might call a Palestinian blind-spot. They still basically support the orthodox U.S. position. Given this, why do you feel compelled to run for a position within the Democratic Party?
MO: I understand why people would be critical of my running for a position within the Democratic Party, because the Democrats have not been supportive of Palestine. We have people in the party who call themselves progressives, who say they care about human rights but at the same time won’t talk about Palestine or support Israel’s policies. The reality is that we have a two-party system and if you are going to get involved in electoral politics you have to run in a major party. Part of the hope of running as a Democrat is again, that I can give voice to these issues and move the Democratic party more towards the right place on this issue.
ES: So it’s basically a pragmatic choice right? You need both pressure coming from the outside and agents on the inside.
MO: Yes, I think that’s exactly it. I think we need people pressuring and protesting against the Party’s positions when they are wrong but we also need sympathetic people or people who agree with us to bring up these issues and be responsive to the concerns of people outside the party in order to really change things and change policy on the issue of Palestine.
ES: Is there anything that you are particularly passionate about that you are putting more emphasis or more weight if elected?
MO: I’m very passionate about issue of education. As someone who attended school in Long Beach and benefitted from going to a public university, I believe that education should be both quality and affordable.
ES: You come from a family with a history of political activism. Could you explain a bit of that history, how that’s motivated your candidacy and activism, and how supportive your family has been of that activism?
MO: My father, a Palestinian, who came to the U.S. in the 1980’s was an advocate for Palestine. Him and seven others were arrested by the FBI for hanging Palestinian banners and handing out pro-Palestinian pamphlets. They were initially accused of supporting terrorism, but because there was absolutely no evidence they were charged under a law called the McCarren-Walter Act and accused of supporting communism. My father lived here under the threat of deportation until 2007. The case went to the federal district courts, which eventually overturned the law as unconstitutional.
Both of my parents have been very supportive of me, even though they know the costs that come with political activism. It was they, along with many individuals like them that laid the groundwork for the BDS movement we see today. When going through my own hardships in activism or politics I remember that what I face now, although it can be frightening and challenging, is small compared to the hardships that they faced.